< SWITCH ME >
Vladimir Putin is celebrating a decisive victory in the 2012 Presidential elections in Russia. After four years as Prime Minister, he returns to the highest position of power in Moscow. What can Europe expect from the return of a man who has never minced words?
Putin received more than 60% of the overall votes, although international observers such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have made several charges of fraud. No matter how (un)fair and (un)free these recent elections may have been, Europe has to deal with the return of a well-known political veteran.
It seems that Putin has managed to appease his political counterparts in Europe. While there have been statements from German chancellor Angela Merkel and from the EU's high representative for foreign affairs Catherine Ashton, praising the rise of civic movements in Russia and highlighting the need for political reforms, European leaders are mostly relieved that Russian politics look as if they'll remain stable. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé frames it in a pragmatic way: "The election has not been exemplary. That is the least you can say. Putin has been re-elected by a large majority, so France and her European partners will pursue its partnership with Russia." German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle expressed the hope that Germany would "continue and deepen the strategic partnership with Russia."
European leaders have agreed to go forward with a new round of unilateral sanctions, in which the EU would ban oil imports from Iran. Instead of actually imposing these sanctions however, the EU should threaten to impose them, using them as a "stick" to bring about negotiations over Iran's nuclear programme.
In the French daily Le Figaro, French foreign minister Allain Juppé announced the result of the latest EU deliberations over sanctions against Iran: "On 30 January," he said, "the Europeans will hopefully decide on an oil embargo." The debate about banning oil imports from Iran is not new, in fact it emerged as soon as it was clear that the initial sanctions imposed vis-à-vis Iran were rather toothless. The new sanctions were discussed after the latest IAEA report contained stronger-than-usual language about the programme, accusing Iran of having had a nuclear weapons programme until at least 2003, and carrying out experiments more recently. A European oil embargo is likely to hit Iran's economy hard, as European states are second only to China in importing crude oil from Iran. Greece, Italy and Spain, are arguably the three hardest-hit states in the sovereign debt crisis and are also the biggest importers of Iranian oil. Implementing the ban would hit these states the hardest.
Publicly Iran states that this decision will not have a severe impact on its economy. Yet it comes at a time of heightened tensions, after a US spy drone crashed or was brought down by Iranian forces who later launched repeated and highly visible manoeuvres in the Persian Gulf. Therefore, when the 1st Iranian Vice President Reza Rahimi threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, the narrowest point in the Persian Gulf, many observers immediately feared a further escalation, with an oil price uptick of more than 2%. However, it is unclear whether Iran would actually be capable of or even willing to close the Strait for a significant amount of time. Whereas technically, it would not be very hard for Iran to do so, holding it would be considerably harder, especially with the United States threatening retaliation. Apart from a potential military escalation with the United States, the move would be suicidal for Iran's economy. Not only 35% of the global seaborne shipments of oil pass through the strait, but the Iranian government gets 60% of its revenue from oil exports, which have to pass the strait as well.
Since the killing of Osama bin Laden, various clever (and not so clever) analysts have pointed to the increased threat of retaliation by al Qaeda fighters against Europe and the United States. Despite appearing like a sound conclusion, however, the threat of terrorism is – and likely remains – marginal.
It is true that only last week three terrorism suspects, allegedly with a mission from a "senior al Qaeda leader", were arrested in Düsseldorf, the capital of North Rhine Westphalia in Germany. Abdeladin K., the 29-year old Moroccan head of the group travelled to an al Qaeda training camp in Pakistan in early 2010 where, according to German investigators, he received training and instructions for launching an attack in Germany. Not only does this show that al Qaeda is still maintaining training camps in the Afghan-Pakistan border region, but this incident highlights their continued operational effectiveness. So All things Counterterrorism’s Leah Farell tweeted:
It seems AQ’s pak based EO [external operations] infrastructure is pretty robust & they are sticking v much to template.
In fact, bin Laden's death may have acted as a trigger event for the Düsseldorf cell to speed up their plans. The raid might therefore have been just in time.
This post is a reply to Matt (Sixth Sense Editor)'s post yesteday 'Libya, Germany, and the tyranny of definition' that can be found here.
Discussing a no-fly zone over Libya is a particularly hard thing to do. It is easy to argue in both directions and neither side is clearly convincing. This dilemma led to disagreement among Western states on whether or not to intervene in Libya. As Matt points out in his thought-provoking blog post, the United Kingdom and France were clearly in favour of the mission, whereas Germany abstained from the vote. I think however that Germany had palpably good reasons to abstain (or at least not to participate in such military mission) and that it was Germany's communication that could be described as their key flaw.
On Civil War
First, Matt's definition of Libya as a civil war: I think it does not make a substantial difference if we are talking about a civil war or not...